Daphne du Maurier: Adapted


Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was a British novelist and playwright. She was famed for writing gothic novels which were initially dismissed by critics.

Du Maurier’s most famous novel was Rebecca which tells the story of an unnamed young woman who married a wealthy widower while on holiday. When they return to England to live at Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter soon discovers the memory of the first wife seems to be haunting the place.

The novel was made into a film in 1940 and it is still the most acclaimed adaptation of a du Maurier novel to date. Many of du Maurier’s novels and short stories have been adapted into films or television series with mixed results. She was actively involved with some of these adaptations herself.

Du Maurier lived most of her life in Cornwall where she set many of her novels.


REBECCA (1940)

Rebecca was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and was his first American project with producer David O Selznick. The film starred Laurence Oliver as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as his second wife, Mrs de Winter. It also starred with Judith Anderson, George Sanders and Gladys Cooper in supporting roles. The film was released on 12 April 1940 and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, however it only won for Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

Selznick insisted the film stay true to the novel but minor changes were made by Hitchcock and Rebecca’s death had to be classed as accidental as the Hollywood Production Code stipulated a murder of a spouse had to be punished.

REBECCA (1979)

Apart from a few theatre-like presentations on television, the novel was first properly adapted as a series by the BBC in 1979.

The four-part series starred Jeremy Brett as Maxim de Winter, Joanna David as Mrs de Winter and Anna Massey as Mrs Danvers. The show was filmed in Cornwall with Caerhays Castle standing in for Manderley. The series was also broadcast in the United States on PBS.

REBECCA (1997)

Rebecca was adapted by Carlton Television for the ITV network as a two-part series in 1991 and it starred Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter and Emilia Fox as Mrs de Winter.

The series also starred Diana Rigg as Mrs Danvers and Geraldine James as Beatrice, Maxim’s sister. It was also the first production to show glimpses of the deceased Rebecca. Coincidentally, Emilia Fox is the daughter of Joanne David who played the same role in the 1979 BBC series.

Diana Rigg won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie.

REBECCA (2020)

The most recent adaptation of Rebecca was the 2020 film by streaming giant Netflix, starring Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter and Lily James as Mrs de Winter.

Directed by Ben Wheatley and written by Jane Goldman, this version concentrates more on the romantic side of the tale but had the luxury of restoring the material that previously fell foul of the Hollywood Production Code. Kristin Scott Thomas also ramps up the subtext showing a Mrs Danvers who had more than a platonic interest in her deceased mistress.

The film had a limited theatrical release on 16 October 2020 before appearing on Netflix five days later, however it had a lukewarm reception.

frenchman’s creek


Paramount Pictures released the first adaptation of the novel in 1944 and it starred Joan Fontaine as Dona St. Columb and Arturo de Córdova as Jean Benoit Aubrey.

This was Joan Fontaine’s second appearance as a du Maurier character but she clashed with director Mitchell Leisen and some of her co-stars. The film was released in Technicolor and was given a budget of $3.6 million which made it the most expensive film the studio had ever made to that point.

The film was generally well-received by audiences who at least appreciated the lavish production over the patchy script. The film won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. 


The novel was adapted by Carlton Television for the ITV network in 1998 and starred Tara Fitzgerald as Dona St. Columb and Anthony Delon as Jean Benoit Aubrey.

The film was vastly different from the book in that it was set in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution when William and Mary were claiming the English throne for themselves rather than during the Restoration. Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax.

my cousin rachel


The film rights to the novel were purchased by Twentieth Century Fox after its publication in 1951 and starred Olivia de Havilland as Rachel and Richard Burton as Philip Ashley.

The film was initially to be directed by George Cukor but he left the project after he and du Maurier expressed dissatisfaction with the screenplay which diverged greatly from the novel. Henry Coster was brought in to replace Cukor much to the disappointment of Burton who had specifically taken the role to work with him.

The film was critically acclaimed with most of the praise going to Richard Burton who earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Du Maurier was disappointed with the final film maintaining Olivia de Havilland had failed to capture the nuanced mystery of Rachel.


The BBC adapted the novel as a four-part series in 1983 which starred Geraldine Chaplin as Rachel and Christopher Guard as Philip Ashley. Dramatised by Hugh Whitmore, the series debuted on BBC2 on 7 March 1983. 

The series received praise for its authenticity and for capturing the complex themes of the book, while Geraldine Chaplin was singled out for her ambiguous performance of the main character. Like the book, the series leaves a lot of questions unanswered which was ultimately more satisfying.


The most recent adaptation of the book was released in 2017 by Fox Searchlight Pictures and starred Rachel Weisz as Rachel and Sam Claflin as Philip Ashley. The screen play was written by Roger Michell who also directed.

The film grossed $2.7 million in North America and $6.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide gross of $9.2 million. It garnered positive reviews from most critics who praised Rachel Weisz for her performance and Roger Michell’s atmospheric direction.

jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn (1939)

The film rights to Jamaica Inn were purchased by actor Charles Laughton and he appointed Alfred Hitchcock as director. Hitchcock had misgivings about the film as it was intended as a vehicle for Laughton who took on the role of the villainous Sir Humphrey Pengallan. The character was written specially for the film as the original villain, Rev. Francis Davey, couldn’t be used due to the Hollywood Production Code forbidding clergy from being portrayed as wicked.

Laughton’s demands and campy performance detracted from the themes of the novel and the final version of the film was savaged by critics although it was a commercial success. Daphne du Maurier was also not pleased with the film and it made her think twice about releasing the film rights for Rebecca which would be Hitchcock’s first film for David O Selznick.


The novel was adapted as a two-part series by ITV and it first aired on 9 May 1983. The series starred Jane Seymour as Mary Yellan, Patrick McGoohan as Joss Merlyn, Billie Whitelaw as Patience Merlyn and Trevor Eve as Jem Merlyn.

The series was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark who manages to capture the gloominess of the setting to recreate the gothic atmosphere of the novel, however it still comes across as more of a soap opera. Jane Seymour is also miscast as Mary Yellan as she comes across as far too sophisticated to play a teenage girl. The acting plaudits here go to Patrick McGoohan and Billie Whitelaw who carry the show.

Jamaica Inn (2014)

The novel was last adapted as a three-part series by the BBC and it aired from 21 to 23 April 2014. The series was written by Emma Frost but it was badly received and gained more headlines for its poor sound production which resulted in thousands of complaints.

The sound problems weren’t the only issue though as the storyline failed to capture the tension prevalent in the novel and the actors appeared to sleepwalk through their roles.

The series starred Jessica Findlay Brown as Mary Yellan, Matthew McNulty as Jim Merlyn, Sean Harris as Joss Merlyn, Joanne Whalley as Patience Merlyn and Ben Daniels as Rev. Francis Davey.

The scapegoat


The novel was first adapted into a film by Robert Hamer, a British film director and screenwriter, and it starred Alec Guinness in the lead role and Bette Davis as Countess De Gué. Reportedly, Alec Guinness was cast in the role as he reminded Daphne du Maurier of her actor father but she was quick to blame him when the film flopped at the box office. Du Maurier had invested her own money into the project and had a credit as an executive producer.


The novel was adapted into a film by Sarah Beardsall and Dominic Minghella’s production company, Island Pictures, and it began filming in London in 2011. The film differs significantly from the novel as it is set in Britain and the characters names have been changed accordingly.

Matthew Rhys has the title role of John Standing, a teacher who meets his doppelgänger in London, Johnny Spence, in a hotel and he wakes up the following morning to realise Spence has stolen his identity. Standing has no choice but to assume Spence’s identity in turn.

other works

THE BIRDS (1963)

The Birds, a short story written by Daphne du Maurier, was adapted into a horror film by Alfred Hitchcock which focuses on sudden attacks on people by birds. The film stars Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner, Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner and Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels. The screenplay by Evan Hunter, kept the concept of du Maurier’s unexplained bird attacks but he added in new characters and expanded the material.

The reception to the film was mixed, however it has become mired in controversy as Tippi Hedren has since made allegations about Hitchcock’s inappropriate behaviour towards her during filming. The other cast members and crew have all alleged that Hitchcock was obsessed with her and did not like it when his advances were spurned.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don’t Look Now, a short story, was adapted into a film by London-based Casey Productions and Rome-based Eldorado Films. The film starred Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a married couple, John and Laura Baxter, who travel to Venice after the recent death of their daughter.

John accepts a commission to restore a church and encounters two sisters who claim his daughter is trying to contact them to warn them about a danger. John dismisses them as quacks but begins to experience sightings of his own. Du Maurier loved the film and claimed it was her favourite adaptation of one of her stories.


A film, based on the book of the same name, was produced by Two Cities Films and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. The film focuses on the feud between two Irish families, the Brodricks and the Donovans, over a copper mine on Hungry Hill.

The film starred Margaret Lockwood as Fanny Rosa, Dennis Price as John Brodrick and Michael Denison as Henry Brodrick. The film was a flop. Du Maurier co-wrote the screenplay.